ANOTHER FINE MESS (1930) – Stan Laurel in drag is not a drag

The following is my contribution to The Butlers & Maids Blogathon, being co-hosted by Rick and Paddy at, respectively, the blogs Wide Screen World and Caftan Woman on Feb. 22 & 23, 2020. Click on the above image to read bloggers’ takes on servility in cinema!

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Laurel & Hardy’s short subject Another Fine Mess is based on a sketch written by Stan Laurel’s father, which was also the basis for their first “team” film, Duck Soup. It’s been well-documented that Stan’s dad disapproved of his son’s version of the sketch, but as Laurel & Hardy pictures go, you could do far worse.

Here, Stan and Ollie are vagrants on the run from an irate cop whom Stan mistakenly addressed as “Ma’am.” Through circumstances beyond their control (as usual), they end up hiding in a mansion and having to pose as the owner, Col. Buckshot (Ollie), and his maid Agnes (Stan!), under the pretext of showing the mansion to potential renters.

It’s the wispiest of premises, and it’s not helped by intrusive music and sound effects. But on the plus side is Ollie’s hammy interpretation of Col. Buckshot (“last of the Kentucky Buckshots”), and a priceless give-and-take between Stan-as-Agnes and Thelma Todd, exchanging some “girl talk.” It goes on a bit long (as most of their three-reelers do) but has its fair share of laughs.

And definitely check out the movie’s opening, where two chorus-girl types walk on-screen and recite the movie’s credits out loud. And you thought Stan in drag was bizarre!

BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) – It’s always a dame

The following is my contribution to The Magnificent Mia Farrow Blogathon, being hosted by the blog Pale Rider on Feb. 9 & 10, 2020. Click on the above image, and read bloggers’ takes on the life and career of this legendary actress!

In the 1980’s, Mia Farrow not only had a relationship with Woody Allen, but she also appeared in and influenced the tone of his movies as much as Diane Keaton had in the 1970’s. Nearly all of the Allen movies in which she appeared showed the beatific effect she had on him at the time — we’ll here forego any commentary on their relationship’s tempestuous end — and any of those movies demonstrate how Farrow’s gifts complemented Allen’s confident direction. But for the sake of this blogathon, I’ve chosen to discuss the Allen-directed role that is most foreign to our view of the waifish Farrow: Feisty Tina Vitale in Allen’s broad comedy Broadway Danny Rose.

Allen plays the title role, a down-on-his-luck theatrical agent — his acts include a woman who plays drinking glasses, and a parrot that pecks out songs on a keyboard — who always loses his higher-end acts when they get successful and want to move on to more assertive management.

One of Allen’s more promising acts is Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), a crooner from the 1950’s who is getting by on the fumes of his past success. When the nostalgia craze comes in the 1980’s, suddenly Lou is hot stuff again, and he lands a gig on a big-time TV special. For his TV appearance, Lou has only one major request for Danny — that he act as a “beard” and bring Lou’s extra-marital girlfriend, Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow), to the special’s taping for good luck.

As luck would have it, two-timer Tina discovers that she herself has been cuckolded by another woman, and when Danny comes to pick her up, Tina is in the middle of a volatile phone call with Lou in which she says to forgot about her attending the special. From there, Danny goes into the world’s longest panic attack, as he tries to make amends with Tina as well as keep himself and Tina from getting killed by a couple of Tina’s low-life mobster acquaintances.

As rich as the characterizations and setting are, there are really only two characters you remember vividly after the movie ends. Allen eschews his usual schnook persona, but Danny Rose appears to be a not-too-distant relative. He gesticulates endlessly like a traffic cop gone haywire, and he is forever spouting Jewish homilies to placate his enemies. He’s quite a hoot.

But the real revelation is Farrow (also a million miles away from our usual perception of her) as the gum-chewing, hard-nosed Tina Vitale. According to Allen, he based Tina on an assertive waitress at an Italian restaurant that he and Farrow used to frequent. Farrow casually observed that she’d like to play a woman like that in a movie. The irony is that, when Allen wrote the script and presented it to Farrow, she feared she couldn’t possibly do it justice!

Happily, Farrow was wrong, as she fully inhabits her role — bleached blonde hair, dark glasses, and all — and makes Tina funny and touching, even when she’s at her loudest and least sympathetic. In fact, she dons the role so well that the only time we’re aware it’s Farrow is when she takes off those big glasses and we see Farrow’s delicate features beneath.

Broadway Danny Rose is Allen’s happy valentine (probably unintended) to those fans who prefer to see him being just plain funny. He provides the movie’s laughs, and Farrow provides its heart.

R.I.P., Terry Jones

I was briefly in the hospital this week (nothing major), so I was unable to address this topic in a timely manner. But I’d like to add mine to the chorus of voices mourning the death at age 77 of Terry Jones, who was one-sixth of a comedy conglomerate known as Monty Python.

Jones was an Oxford alumnus and a well-respected medieval historian, though you’d never know it from the over-the-top work he did on behalf of Python (although it was Jones’ knowledge of medieval times that served as an impetus for Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Although he (like the other Pythons) played a variety of roles, Jones’ most memorable characterizations were mostly milquetoasts who were clueless about the situations they were dragged into — the straight man in the immortal “Nudge, nudge” sketch with Eric Idle, the beach visitor who keeps getting caught undressing and cheerily resigns himself to doing a stripping routine.

In addition to Python, Jones’ oeuvre includes a TV show (“Ripping Yarns” with long-time friend and fellow Python Michael Palin), countless books, plays, and screenplays, and several movie-directing turns. Sadly, the last years of Jones’ life were riddled with dementia that robbed him of his ability to think and communicate — a huge loss for any person, but doubly so for such a prolific scholar and creative being.

Thank you, Mr. Jones, for all the outrageous laughs. Here is probably his most memorable movie routine, from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

#SatMat for Sat., Dec. 7, 2019 – Preston Sturges’ comedy classic THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK (1944)

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Small-town girl Trudy Kockenlocker (reflect on that name for a moment) is torn. Trudy (Betty Hutton) wants to give a good time to the soldiers who are having a farewell party before leaving to fight in the war. But the small-town part of her regrets once again turning down a date with well-meaning 4-F-er Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken), who has longed for Trudy ever since they were kids.

(And Trudy’s brusque father, Constable Edmund Kockenlocker [William Demarest], would prefer to see Trudy and her younger sibling Emmy [Diana Lynn] locked up in chastity belts until their honeymoons.)

Trudy takes the worldly way out and wishes the soldiers well all night long. This results in a bump on the head, a quickie marriage to some soldier whose name she can’t quite place (“Ratzkywatzky? I know there’s a ‘Z’ in it somewhere”), and yet another bump — the kind that’s the outcome of a marriage you can’t quite remember. All of this quite rattles the good citizens of Morgan’s Creek — particularly Norval, who usually has a bad case of the nerves on his good days.

All of this results in risque, just-this-side-of-bad-taste comedy that left many contemporary censors, critics, and moviegoers in (often delightful) shock (it’s stated that the movie often played to SRO houses in its day) and still leaves you wide-eyed and laughing with its refreshing frankness. This movie looks as though it was filmed for about 50 cents, and it really doesn’t matter — because, as with the best movie comedies, all you really want is a camera to follow the characters around and watch as they get deeper and deeper into their mess. And that’s pretty much what writer-director Preston Sturges does; you can almost see him behind the camera, licking his chops as his actors make the most out of every situation and pratfall.

As for those actors, what’s not to like? Hutton and Lynn are thoroughly winning as they hatch their schemes under the lurking eye of their assertive father. Bracken takes a character who’s potentially grating and gives him an undercurrent of naive charm. Demarest is superbly blustery (and who knew he could take such falls over and over?). There’s always one scene in each of Sturges’ movies that ensures it for posterity. I couldn’t resist embedding this movie’s highlight/scene below. It’s the one where the constable/father gives a very threatening speech to his potential son-in-law, who is already near hysterics from all of the movie’s goings-on.

Sturges brings the story to a head right on Christmas Eve. That’s enough for me to qualify it as my favorite Christmas movie ever. It’s a miracle, all right — a miracle of comedy.

Want to watch this comedy gem with some fellow fans? Join us on Twitter on Sat., Dec. 7, 2019 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time. Use the hashtag #SatMat to watch the movie with us (for free) and comment on it as it goes along. See you there!

A Twitter Thanksgiving: Laurel & Hardy in MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS

If WPIX can do it, so can we! Start your Thanksgiving right with our Laurel & Hardy Live Tweet, starting at 11:30 a.m. ET on Thanksgiving morning. Use the hashtag #LHThanksgiving to find the movie on Twitter and to tweet along with fellow movie-watchers.

Announcing THE HONEYMOONERS BLOGATHON!

If you’re a fan of Ralph Kramden & Co., it’s time to take a trip to the moon (or at least to 328 Chauncey Street) as we present

We want this blogathon to be as inventive and fun as the TV series that inspired it. Therefore, like Ralph in the episode “Young Man with a Horn,”

we have taken stock of this blogathon’s potential and would like to present you with its weaknesses and strong points. (In other words, here’s what you can and cannot write about for this blogathon.)

Strong Points (Do’s)

  1. You may write about any incarnation of “The Honeymooners”: The “Classic 39” episodes; the 1950’s “Lost Episodes” that were revived in 1985; the “Honeymooners” musical-based segments of Gleason’s 1966-1970 CBS variety show; and the hour-long “Honeymooners” specials that Gleason did for ABC in the late 1970’s. You can write about a single episode that you like, or you can write about the entire series.
  2. Studies and critiques of the individual characters.
  3. Facts and anecdotes related to the making of the series. (Just two examples: Leonard Stern was an early writer for the show and went on to produce “Get Smart” and “He & She” among other hit sitcoms. Louis Sorin, who played opposite Groucho Marx in the early Marx Bros. talkie Animal Crackers, appears as one of Ralph’s irritated neighbors 26 years later in “Mama Loves Mambo.” Tell everyone something we don’t already know about this TV show. Research can be fun!)
  4. Parodies of the show? Why not? Write about the “Honeymooners” take-offs performed on “In Living Color” and early “Saturday Night Live,” or the three “Honey-mousers” Looney Tunes cartoons produced by Warner Bros. from 1956 to 1960.
  5. Yes, if you dare, you can even write about the 2005 movie version of The Honeymooners, starring Cedric the Entertainer.

Weaknesses (Don’t’s)

  1. No mini-biographies of the series’ stars or backstage personnel, except as such information relates to the TV show (see my Leonard Stern example, above).
  2. No personal anecdotes such as “I was 10 years old when I first came across ‘The Honeymooners’ on TV.” We already know we all like “The Honeymooners,” or we wouldn’t be participating in a blog about them.
  3. No duplicate entries. We will continually update the list of blogathon entries that is shown below. Please check back on it to ensure that your idea is not already taken.

If you have your own idea for a blogathon entry, let us know. If it fits in the “Strengths” category, we’ll allow it.

Instructions

  1. In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie you are choosing to blog about. Below are banners you can use to promote your blog entry. Please choose a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.
  2. The blogathon will take place from Fri., Oct. 25, through Sun., Oct. 27, 2019. When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).
  3. I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on Oct. 27, I will be satisfied. (That said, the sooner the better!)

Again, be sure to leave a comment below and grab one of our banners, and have fun with your blog entry! Here’s the line-up so far (and away we go…):

Movie Movie Blog Blog II: “Suspense” (1953), “Head of the House” (1956), and the “Second Honeymoon” special (1976)

MovierobThe Honeymooners (2005)

Caftan Woman – Musical moments from “The Classic 39”

The Midnite Drive-In – “The Man from Space” (1955)

Wide Screen World – “Mama Loves Mambo” (1956)